Discuss the key components of an effective strategy for raising the attainment of pupils with learning difficulties.
The aspect of pupils with learning difficulties can take on many differing forms. From difficulty in communicating thoughts and ideas as well as a lack of verbal skills to not “… being able to concentrate …” long enough to convert that thought into communication with others (NASA Occupational Health, 2006). There are varied forms of learning difficulties, ranging from problems in using language, math, and general understanding as well as the previously mentioned understanding and communication aspects (NASA Occupational Health, 2006). The identification of pupils with learning difficulties represents an area that parents as well as teachers need to be cognizant of, with early identification representing the more favorable approach to intervention (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 1). The preceding types of learning difficulties are termed “… dyslexia, dysphasia, the attention deficit disorders (ADD), with the added hyperactivity (ADHD), Asperser’s syndrome, specific language impairment (SLI), and the Scandinavian-named DAMP (deficit in attention, motor control and perception) (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 1).
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The United Kingdom’s Department for Education and Skills (2007) states that an “Initial and diagnostic assessment …” represents the “… starting point, or baseline, for learning”. The identification of pupils with learning difficulties “… can be subtle, multiple and difficult to pinpoint …” (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2007). Keen (2001) advised that as a result of enhanced identification methods and understandings there has been an 80 percent increase in children identified with having a difficulty that hinders learning. The increased number of students identified with learning difficulties has stretched the demand on “… physiotherapists, occupational therapists and psychologists …” to the point where in the United Kingdom they cannot cope, stretching waiting times and referrals to a unacceptable levels (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 1). Thus, “… teachers are being urged to make a comprehensive assessment of children’s difficulties …” and utilize strategies and learning materials and techniques to cope with pupils having this problem. This paper shall seek to identify the key components of an effective strategy for raising the attainment of pupils with learning difficulties.
The context of learning disabilities can be dealt with either in special situation schools or mainstream educational facilities. As this examination indicates the effective components of an effective strategy to achieve a heightened level of attainment for pupils with learning disabilities, the strategy aspect identifies that the context is in mainstream educational facilities. One of the key facets of pupils with learning difficulties is that they require additional attention as well as monitoring of progress that is outside of the normative procedures for students not so affected (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 88). In the United Kingdom under the government initiative titled “Every Child Matters” (National Literacy Trust, 2007a) such has provided the framework for the development of a special agenda “Barriers to Achievement – Special Educational Needs” which sets forth the vision of the government to provide pupils with special needs “… the opportunity to succeed” (National Literacy Trust, 2007b). The preceding also falls under ‘Special Educational Needs (SEN)’ provides “… that schools and local authorities …” adopt practices that avoids “… the need for schools to write and review Individual Education Plans” which is accompanied by guidance materials termed ‘The Disability Equality Duty’ (Teachernet, 2007a). The preceding guidance sets forth for schools, and their local authorities, “… to take a more proactive approach to promoting disability equality …” which includes learning difficulties, to develop their own individual schemes “… through a staged approach “, and to “… provide training and development activities …” (Teachernet (2007b).
Central to the proceeding, and one of the cornerstones of the strategy for raising the attainment of pupils with learning difficulties is ‘inclusion’ (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 88). As the word, inclusion, within this context means differing things to different groups, authorities and agencies it is defined as “… the process of increasing the participation of learners within and reducing their exclusion from, the mainstream curricula and communities” (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 88). This component of inclusion has become a significant component of the UK’s national educational framework, which also endorses “… greater flexibility in planning a curriculum suited to the needs of those with learning difficulties” (Kelly and Norwich, 2004, p. 42). They continue that ‘inclusion’ “… provides frameworks and materials to support schools in curriculum development … (and that) … it is aimed at a very diverse group of children and young people ranging from profound and multiple learning difficulties, through severe to moderate learning difficulties” (Kelly and Norwich, 2004, p. 42).
The Qualification and Curriculum Authority (2001, p. 4) states that the guidelines represent support for “… the planning, development and implementation of the curriculum for pupils with learning difficulties”. The guidelines represent a foundation that schools can utilize with their own materials along with the National Curriculum in conformity with the “… statutory entitlement …” for learning for all students, and to “… build on the principles of inclusion …” that are set forth under the National Curriculum (The Qualification and Curriculum Authority, 2001, p. 4). Furthermore, the guidelines represent a means via which to aid schools in this process through the setting of “… suitable learning challenges”, “… responding to pupil’s diverse learning needs” and via the inclusion of “… all learners by overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment” (The Qualification and Curriculum Authority, 2001, p. 4). The scheme also attempts to “… integrate aspects of … the full range of National Curriculum subjects …” as well as setting “… the foundation stage for the early years of education … preparation for adult life … key skills framework … thinking skills … (and) … personal priority needs in terms of therapies” (Kelly and Norwich, 2004, pp. 42-43).
Lewis and Norwich (2000, pp. 6-8) state that even with the positive step in the direction of national inclusion and guidelines, their review found that there “… has been no serious attempt to develop a curriculum or pedagogy …”, which is defined in this context as “ … the cluster of decisions and actions that aim to promote school learning (Lewis and Norwich, 2000, p. 7). The foregoing review set about to determine if “… there were specific or district kinds of pedagogy for the different areas of learning difficulties” Kelly and Norwich, 2004, p. 43). Said examination was conducted under the assumption that there are three broad types of pedagogy needs that can be identified “… needs common to all, needs specific to a defined group and needs unique to individuals” Kelly and Norwich, 2004, p. 43). The importance of the preceding is that there are distinct teaching differences and methodologies associated with the teaching of differing subject matter as well as the specific learning difficulties involved.
Mastopieri et al (1997, pp. 199-211) found that in a study of pupils with learning difficulties that they did not respond as well as to science teaching that was based upon the use of inductive reasoning that represented a particular learning difficulty separate from those associated with low attainers or severe learning difficulties. Wishart (1993, pp. 380-403) stated that the preceding needs to explore the aspect for what he termed as differential teaching strategies that include error free versus trial and error learning, the use of visual as opposed to auditory presentations to aid in retention and comprehension, a consolidation of learning techniques and the monitoring of behaviours in off task routines. Bernstein (2002), in espouses that learning difficulties tend to appear when pupils “… hit a brick wall they cannot climb with their particular set of competencies…” and in her belief, the preceding represents that a learning difficulty is connected with the failure to adapt to the learning environment. The preceding is an important observation in that children develop competencies at differing rates, thus schools need to consider the changes that could be made to the curriculum as well as the learning environment to provide more successful learning experiences (Bernstein, 2002). This tailoring of curriculum and learning environment with needs, in her view, represents matching the learning tasks to the learning needs as opposed to expectations that are pre-set (Bernstein, 2002). The preceding means that curriculums should represent flexible as well as responsive vehicles that aid pupils in attaining their maximum potentials, through understanding and recognizing diversity as part of the inclusion process. The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum (2007) advises that differentiation represents an attitude as well as approach and structure which makes flexibility possible and that through the modification of teaching pace that content level can thus be adapted to meet and suit the needs of particular students.
Thus, in utilizing the ‘inclusion’ methodology it means that a reconsideration of the approach to teaching is thus required as well. Deponio and Macintyre (2003, p. 89) state that teachers must resist teaching to pupils in the manner in that they learn as “… this may not suit the learning styles of children with specific learning difficulties”. Madsen and Olson (2005) endorse the preceding viewpoint in stating that the understanding of “… how people learn is the foundation of informed teaching …”. Loucks-Horsley et al (1998, p. 32) advise that teachers in observing student behaviors as well as their records thus need to “… apply knowledge about students, content, the curriculum, instruction, assessment, and the school and local communities”. Johnson (1993, pp. 507-535) refers to the preceding as representing a cognitively demanding act and thus newer teachers have a tendency to rely on fewer clues from which to make and base their decisions. Thus theory as well as experience and practical applications represent an important facet in identifying the courses of teaching action and methodologies to take in adapting the curriculum to deal with students with learning difficulties. Deponio and Macintyre (2003, pp. 89-90) point to a solution representing the use of individualized curriculums which are integrated into the planning process through a study of the pupils in classroom composition, their records and past comments and performances by other teachers. Such pre teaching planning provides the teacher with a guideline to develop strategies and alternative courses of action based upon this prior information and observation as opposed to adapting as they go (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 91).
The Scottish Executive (2002, p. 5) advises that the preceding is an important aspect of improving instructional effectiveness and that too little consultation with parents and prior records is utilized in the development of educational plans on the part of teachers. The idea of ‘individualized education programmes is by no means new. Smith (1990) advises that this represents an established facet of Public Law, 94-142, and that individualized education programmes provide educational opportunities for children with learning difficulties in adapting the curriculum to enable them to participate and learn. It, individualized education programs, represent the combination of “… team based decisions, parent involvement, data based goal planning and the presumption of access to the general education curriculum (Yell and Shriner, 1997, pp. 1-20). Deponio and Macintyre (2003, p. 91) advise that in order for individualized education programmes to be effective, they must “… be integrated into the planning process and not regarded as an add on for a particular child”. They add that individualized education programmes represent a method of “… sharing information and understanding children’s strengths and difficulties … (and that) … agreed aims and targets should be shared so that the document becomes the whole school response to children’s learning” (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 91).
Effective strategies for raising the attainment of pupils with learning difficulties, as discussed herein, are represented by the processes of ‘Initial and diagnostic assessment’ (Department for Education and Skills, 2007), inclusion (Deponio and Macintyre, 2003, p. 88), and ‘individualized education programmes (Smith, 1990) representing key strategies in the process. The preceding are processes, theories and methodologies that have been developed over a long period of observation, and represent established practices. The facet of learning difficulties is no longer confined to what used to be thought of as a small group, but represents a larger sphere of pupils that includes ethnic diversities as well as those identified with having problems using language, math, general understanding and communication skills.
The broad context of pupils that fall into the preceding means that the educational process needs to utilize the observation of teachers, the involvement of parents and the use of curriculum to design programmes that address the individualized learning processes that are present in differing students. The process does not intend to develop specialized programmes that isolate those pupils with learning difficulties, but rather to moderate the curriculum and teaching process to permit the teacher to instruct in a manner that is consistent with the students comprising their classroom. This approach represents a more comprehensive as well as challenging facet to teaching that requires the teacher to have a better understanding of the composition of student abilities and learning facets. Yell and Shriner (1997, pp. 1-20) summarize the foregoing by stating that such represents the utilization of “… team based decisions, parent involvement, data based goal planning and the presumption of access to the general education curriculum.
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